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Red Tails (2012)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 5/22/2012
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/29/2012
When we think of George Lucas, Star Wars immediately comes to mind, despite the fact that that he directed two movies (THX-1138 and American Graffiti) before that career-altering film came out. But, after 1977, Lucas stepped away from directing and took on the role of producer, shepherding in many pet projects like Willow and Howard the Duck (!). In 1988, Lucas expressed an interest in making a movie about African-American fighter pilots in World War II. But, the movie never got off the ground (pun intended), and Lucas set his sights on various Star Wars-related projects. Over 20 years later, Lucas used his own movie to bring Red Tails to the screen.
Red Tails is set at an American airfield in Ramitelli, Italy. The year is 1944 and the Allies are fully engaged with the Germans in aerial combat. This base is manned by the lone African-African fighter squad. Marty "Easy" Julian (Nate Parker), Joe "Lightning" Little (David Oyelowo), Ray "Junior" Gannon (Tristan Wilds), Samuel "Joker" George (Elijah Kelley), Andrew "Smoky" Salem (Ne-yo), and Leon "Neon" Edwards (Kevin Phillips) are the proud members of this group, and they are lead by Colonel A.J. Bullard (Terence Howard) and Major Emanuelle Stance (Cuba Gooding Jr.). The group often feels slighted, as they are only asked to fly scouting missions, while white pilots are allowed to engage the enemy. However, as the war escalates, the squadron, who become known by the red tails on their planes, get their chance to escort a squadron of bombers and make a name for themselves.
Here's two things to consider -- 1. The achievements of this group of pilots represented a very powerful chapter in the civil rights movement. African-American soldiers and airmen had been treated as second-class citizens, despite the fact that they put their lives on the line just like everyone else, and this was truly their time to shine. This proved that they were as good, if not better, than white pilots. 2. George Lucas planned this movie for over twenty years, stopping and starting, and utilizing various screenwriters. Despite these setback, this should have given him ample time to iron out any wrinkles.
So, this raises a question -- why isn't this a better movie? On the surface, Red Tails looks like a rousing war movie, but it's truly lacking in depth and heart. First of all, there's no backstory here. It's 1944 and the war is in full-swing. We don't learn much about the pilot's backgrounds, save for the fact that some of them had been in college, and we certainly don't learn how or why they are in this squadron. Yes, the point of the movie is that they were able to make an impact on the war, but shouldn't we know what steps it took for them to get there. Did Lucas live with this story for so long that he just assumes that we all know it? The movie is also very flat, and the blame for this goes to Director Anthony Hemingway and Writers John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. The movie should make us love these guys and cheer for them throughout, but the dialogue scenes are painfully dull and the words feel very stilted -- so much so that it makes the acting look bad. The film's only saving grace are the battle sequences. The visual effects here are excellent and the intricacies of these scenes help to illustrate the chaos that is aerial combat. However, we know that when these scenes end, the actors will be grounded again, as will our interest.
The oddest thing about Red Tails is that this story has been told before in a movie. The Tuskegee Airmen aired on HBO in 1995 and featured (for the time) an all-star cast...including Cuba Gooding Jr. Of course, who's to tell one of Hollywood's most successful filmmakers that he can't make a movie? So, we get George Lucas' pet-project and a whole lot of unanswered questions.
Red Tails gets a little Hogan's Heroes in the third act on Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 25 Mbps. The image is extremely sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably the reds (of course) and the image is never overly dark or bright. The picture is very crisp which lends it a great deal of detail -- we can easily make out textures on objects. The depth is good as well and the battle scenes show how the planes are nicely separated from the background. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. As one would imagine, the dogfight scenes sound great. The planes zip from side-to-side in the front channels and then zoom past us going from the front to the rear. We are truly placed in the middle of the action and the subwoofer emphasizes the explosions. These effects are detailed and we can easily pick out individual sounds.
The Red Tails Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "Double Victory: The Tuskegee Airmen at War" (66 minutes) is a documentary which tells the true story of the men portrayed in the film. Narrated by Cuba Gooding Jr., this contains interviews with the real "Tuskegee Airmen" and historical footage from the era. This is a fairly thorough piece which answers some of the questions not covered by Red Tails. In "George Lucas: Executive Producer" (3 minutes), the Jedi himself talks about what drove him to make this film, its themes, and how he approached the project. "Anthony Hemingway: Director" (6 minutes) has the filmmaker revealing how he got involved with the film and what his goals were. The film's overly-dramatic music is examined in "Terence Blanchard: Composer" (6 minutes). "The Cast of Red Tails" (25 minutes) contains comments from the actors who talk about their characters and how it felt to be in the film. "Movie Magic" (5 minutes) shows us how modern visual effects were able to bring the World War II dogfights to life.
Review Copyright 2012 by Mike Long